8 Simple Stretches

Stretching keeps muscles and joints limber. It’s also an excellent way to relax yourself and release tension. The program below

Stretching keeps muscles and joints limber. It’s also an excellent way to relax yourself and release tension.

The program below combines simple stretching exercises with modified yoga poses. The series of stretches is designed to be done in sequence. But if any exercise feels too difficult or uncomfortable, skip it and go on to the next.

1. Side Stretch
Step A
Stand up straight with your feet together, fingers interlaced at chest level. Turn your palms away and raise your arms overhead. Lengthen your arms, torso and legs. Relax your neck and hold for a count of five.

Step B
Now bend slowly to the right and hold for a count of five. Return to the starting position. Then gently bend to the left and hold for a count of five.

2. Forward Bend
Step A
Bring your arms back down to your sides and pause. Now bend your knees slightly. Place your feet about six inches apart. Then bend slowly at the waist until your chest is resting on your thighs. Let your arms dangle in front of you and hold the position for about 20 seconds.

Step B
Slowly straighten your legs as much as feels comfortable. Keep your upper body and arms relaxed and in roughly the same position, and hold again for about 20 seconds. If you need a little extra support, place your hands on a 12-inch stool or block of wood.

3. Downward-Facing Dog
Step A
Straighten back up, then get down on all fours, hands and knees on the floor. Tuck your toes under so the balls of your feet are on the ground. Contracting your abdominal muscles, slowly lift your hips to form an upside-down V with your body. Allow your knees to bend slightly and your heels to rise off the floor.

Step B
Keeping your back straight, gently straighten your knees and press your heels toward the floor. Hold for 20 seconds.

4. Quad Stretch
Now slowly lower yourself to the floor and lie on your left side, your left arm supporting your head. With your right hand, grasp your right ankle. Gently pull your right foot toward your buttocks, feeling the muscles in the front of your leg stretch. Your right knee should be in line with your left one. Hold for 20 seconds, then roll over and repeat with your left foot.

5. Cobra
Return to resting position, face down on the floor with your legs together and the tops of your feet touching the mat or carpet. Place your hands on either side of your head, palms down and shoulder-width apart. Press up, raising your shoulders and resting on your forearms. Gaze forward or slightly up. Feel your lower back stretch and relax. Hold for 20 seconds.

6. Child’s Pose
Return to the starting position of the cobra. Now slowly press up and back, bending at the knees and waist until you are sitting on the backs of your heels. The tops of your feet should be flat against the floor and your arms stretched flat on the floor in front of you. Lower your shoulders and your forehead to the ground, and hold for 20 seconds.

7. Hip Stretch
Roll over onto your back. Roll your pelvis to the right, gently lowering your right knee as close to the floor as you can. Hold for 20 seconds. Then repeat on the left side.

8. Corpse Pose
Slowly slide your feet out until your legs are flat on the floor. With your arms about 45 degrees from your side, palms up, and your legs about one to two feet apart, let your feet fall away from each other. Close your eyes and relax. Concentrate on releasing tension from the center of your body outward to your fingertips and toes.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest